Intellectuals in Turkey

Targeted by the Nationalists

Following the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink, the lingering ultra-nationalist mood in Turkey is becoming more and more unbearable and dangerous for intellectuals. Gunnar Köhne reports from Istanbul

​​"You can't bend the back of a Turk" are the words of a hit song featured in a shocking new YouTube video. Bearing the title "It's time everyone gets the message," the video portrays photographs of the assassinated Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, as well as portraits of the seventeen year old suspect in his murder.

Following next are pictures of those at whom the message is aimed: literary Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and his fellow writer Elif Safak. Both authors have been openly critical of the mass murder of Armenians during the First World War and have thus been targeted by ultra-nationalists. A group calling itself the "Turkish Revenge Brigade" claims authorship of the video.

Pamuk turns his back on Turkey

Rightwing activity in Turkey is becoming more aggressive, and since the murder of Hrant Dink in mid-January Orhan Pamuk and a half dozen other intellectuals are under police protection. Pamuk has already had enough of the charged atmosphere in his home country - he has left Turkey for the United States for an indefinite time.

Ten months before parliamentary elections, the "Grey Wolves Party" (MHP) currently has the support of 15 percent of voters, according to surveys.

​​Particularly among Turkish youths, right radicalism is once again in fashion; the internet has become a market place for young Turkish fascists. And many fans of the Trabzon soccer team are now wearing a white wool cap - the same kind worn by the suspect in Mr. Dink's assassination.

For the liberal portion of Turkish society, the assassination of Mr. Dink has posed a great challenge. Under the motto "We are all Armenians," the funeral of Mr. Dink turned into a huge demonstration against racism attended by over one hundred thousand people - which only seems to have provoked the extreme right even more.

A nationalist counter-movement

Kemal Kerincsiz is a lawyer and chairman of a nationalistic lawyers association that has brought suit against Hrant Dink, Orhan Pamuk and many others for "insulting Turkish identity."

He mocked the fact that "not a single Turkish flag was carried at the demonstration." Politicians of all parties expressed their incomprehension at the protest motto touting that "We are all Armenians."

Demands are becoming louder for the abolishment of the infamous legal paragraph 301 that makes "insult against Turkish identity" a punishable crime.

It was the legal suit against Hrant Dink, Orhan Pamuk and many others on the basis of this paragraph that made these intellectuals into a target for nationalists. But the government has been reserved in its response.

Prime Minister Erdogan has invited critics to a dialog about reforming the paragraph, but he rejects the idea of completely abolishing it. In the run-up to elections, Erdogan is apparently trying to avoid anything that could be interpreted by the nationalist opposition as a concession to Europeans.

Slow progress in solving the Dink assassination

Erdogan has said that solving the Dink assassination is a "holy duty" - yet progress has been slow. In fact, the more details come out, the more it appears that the culprit was aided by the government.

One of the young suspect's friends serves as a police informer. Those involved in the plot bragged about their plans to shoot Hrant Dink as a "traitor to the country." The police knew of the plot but did not respond.

But debate about the consequences of the assassination has gone beyond the questions of legal reform and police protection for critical intellectuals.

Many have blamed the media for the extreme right sentiments coursing through the country. In television and at the cinema, rightwing Rambo-type series and heroic tales from the First World War are popular at the moment.

Education specialist Neyyir Berktay from Istanbul says that schools must begin seeking ways to work against extremism:

"We are accustomed to always seeing the others, foreigners, as the enemy or the guilty ones. And we lack critical thinking—without questioning, we immediately believe what we hear. When paired with poverty and hopelessness, these attitudes are dangerous among youths."

Gunnar Köhne

© 2007

Translated from the German by Christina M. White

Obituary Hrant Dink
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Following the assassination of Hrant Dink, one of the most prominent voices of Turkey's shrinking Armenian community, the country is still in a state of shock. Dorian Jones, Istanbul, remembers of the courageous editor of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly "Agos"

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